LONDON – The number of IC design starts at 28-nm for foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. is more than three times what they were at the equivalent stage in the roll out of 40-nm manufacturing processes, according to a company executive.
"The smartphone and tablet is the new killer application," said Maria Marced, president of TSMC Europe. "We are seeing a design explosion at 28-nm. We have 89 tape-outs in the pipeline," Marced added. She said that by TSMC's estimate the company currently holds 90 percent of the world's pending tape-outs at 28-nm.
And the company is already shipping 28-nm silicon for some customers, Marced said. "The mobile Internet is demanding the same performance at much lower power." TSMC (Hsinchu, Taiwan) is offering both high-k metal gate (HKMG) and conventional polysilicon processes at 28-nm and has 20-nm production slated for volume production in the second-half of 2012.
However, TSMC will not deploy FinFET technology, said to be a boon for mobile applications, until at least the 14-nm node. This is in contrast to Intel Corp., which recently announced the use of FinFETs, which it calls tri-gate technology, on its 1270 manufacturing process (22-nm). The 1270 process is starting to ramp production now with volume production at Intel's F32 fab in Chandler, Arizona scheduled for the second half of 2011.
This gives Intel a lead of about one year over TSMC in terms of geometry and a longer one in terms of the use of FinFETs. FinFETs are said to give a power-performance benefit versus planar transistors at these fine geometries.
Marced said that because Intel is vertically integrated and controls all aspects of design, manufacturing and test it has been able to introduce FinFETs more quickly than TSMC. "We need the ecosystem to be ready for FinFETs, which means design tools, IP, design kits and so on. For us 20-nm will be planar."
The explosion of designs for the smartphone/tablet killer application is one reason that Marced believes TSMC can outgrow the foundry sector in 2011. TSMC is aiming for 20 percent revenue growth in 2011 while it expects the sector to achieve 15 percent growth. Meanwhile it reckons on the semiconductor market overall being only 2 percent up.
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